Fantana’s Film Roundup – September 2018

A fairly enjoyable month where I forewent the watchlist for more impulsive viewing. I also visited the cinema for the first time in five months… pity it was to see the Predator! Better luck next time hopefully. Some real underappreciated, unseen gems this month and I would urge anyone to dig out Bomb City, Victoria, and American Honey if they aren’t already on your radar.

 

The Last Seduction (1994)

Classic of the Month Went into this blind, expecting a dark, ‘90s neo-noir along the lines of Red Rock West or U-Turn, but got a dark comedy instead. Not a bad result in fairness, owing a lot to Linda Fiorentino who owns this movie from start to finish, much like she owns the men who cross her path. The development of her character throughout the course of the plot feels a bit drastic and if I’m honest I found the ending a bit unsatisfying, but Fiorentino carries it, ably supported by an underused Bill Pullman before he got shit and a soft Peter Berg, who was always better behind the camera. A funny little film that leaves you about as bemused as the men Fiorentino leaves in her wake.

7

 

Romanzo Criminale (2005)

Chronicling the rise and fall of three childhood friends who form a crime ring in Rome in their adult years, this plays like any number of Pacino or DeNiro vehicles from forty or fifty years ago, with a timeline that spans years and is loosely based around true events and as such is peppered with true life events from Italian history. At the same time it incorporates a few ‘90s conventions that Tarantino and Ritchie brought to the scene, with codenames like Ice and Black and Lebanese, and quick cut editing to add sharpness. The script is most slick at times, the characters rich and interesting and quite high in number for a film of its ilk. There’s almost an epic quality to it’s scope too, spanning not just Rome but much of Italy as a whole.

It’s absolutely jam-packed with content… to the point it suffers unfortunately. There is just so much crammed in here that the editing struggles to keep up, condensing whole plot-driven scenes into barely a few seconds all because there is so much going on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s impressive! And engrossing, but I would have forgiven it for adding another 15 or so minutes to the 2 ½ hour runtime so as to make it flow a bit more methodically.

7.5

 

The Innocents – Season 1 (2018)

Fresh outta Netflix is this UK-set sci-fi love story about two 16 year-old runaways who discover that one of them has the ability to shape shift into those she comes in contact with when under heavy duress. A bit of a bland affair and that is before we get into the flawed concept. Before that we have a narrative that seems a bit repetitive and episodic as the runaways seem to go from one unsavoury character after the next, all feels a bit rinse and repeat. Then you have the lack of reason. Here is a girl who can shift into the form of others, simultaneously rendering their bodies nullified – yes that’s a danger, but the way they are pursued it’s as if she is a ticking time bomb. Then that theory is blown completely out the water when she runs into a similar soul, who has been existing in the density of central London for years apparently. So just how dangerous is this ‘gift’ if used properly? It kills its own argument and doesn’t leave us enough of a teaser for the next season so this will probably be a case of one and done for me.

6

 

Tales from Earthsea (2006)

A Ghibli production that might not sit on all fans radars, and that isn’t entirely a bad thing. Animated with all the skill one would expect from the studio, at times it hints at themes that would have been a brave decision to explore, but it doesn’t dally. The score, too, is promising, reflecting the grandeur of the world it adds colour too.

It’s not without cliché. The unfriendly love interested rescued from sadistic guards after a chase. Un-shakeable mentor figure. The big bad and his minions. Overused tropes, particularly in anime and video games. But the protagonist, Arren, bucks his respective trope enough to feel refreshing, with his dark side a physical manifestation.

The problem with this, and most anime as it stands, is that they always include the superfluous dialogue that would otherwise be found nowhere near any other film, no wasted space on the page or screen. It’s a dubbing issue obviously. Translations of these Eastern films really need to focus more on content, character development and plot progression, and worry less on fitting the right amount of words into the way the characters’ mouths are animated. While Earthsea is certainly guilty of this offense it certainly isn’t alone, so it saves face on that front. Guilty by association.

6

Romanzo Criminale

Bomb City (2017)

Getting nowhere near the exposure it deserves is this indie drama that flew under the radar last year and follows the lives of several punk rockers in Texas as they negotiate their own alienation and conflict with the local jock population. This is a dramatization of shocking true events as their feuds come to a tragic climax, carrying all the impact of Fruitvale Station but seemingly with none of the fallout. I was in bits at the end of this, as much from the tragedy as from the aftermath and public response. Cannot recommend this is seen highly enough. By no means a masterpiece, but definitely deserving of greater exposure that it currently has. Ironically, and sadly, this reflects the point of the movie. High impact stuff.

8

 

Thief (1981)

Way before Michael Mann gave us the masterpiece that is Heat, he was till dabbling with the heist genre and (mostly) getting it right. James Caan is great in the lead and a real vision of the man’s man throughout, the Tangerine Dream soundtrack is epic and the style feels timeless; definitely a movie that would stand up today. Personally I would’ve preferred more heist coverage and less of the ‘I’m-getting-out-of-this-criminal-world-and-building-a-life’. This is a two-hour movie and – unlike Heat – there isn’t enough heist or heist-planning filling that runtime, but a lot of drama. The finale is also quite underwhelming, topped off with one of the silliest deaths delivered by a highly-regarded actor. Still it has style and charisma, enough to lock you in.

7

 

Stronger (2017)

An emotional retelling of the Boston Marathon bombing as seen through the eyes of Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the attack, and his own personal rehabilitation afterward. All about the performances from Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany and Miranda Richardson, this is a tough watch, scene upon scene of emotional layering, each one evoking more sympathy than the last. Credit to the filmmakers for not painting Bauman in a greater light for the sake of Hollywood bells and whistles. One of those films you see once, feel better for watching, but never go back to.

7

 

Loving Vincent (2017)

Created entirely through oil paintings, you can’t help but marvel at the feat achieved by the animators; visually this is stunning, capturing the Van Gogh style respectably. There’s one scene where a character washes their face from a bucket of water, the camera on their reflection as it disappears, wavers, re-forms again as the water stills. Incredible. Although the style overpowers the narrative, it should not be said that the film isn’t without interest. It’s dialogue heavy but it’s interesting with interesting characters, and the filmmakers do an exceptional job of creating a sense of allure, of presence, around Vincent, a character whose dialogue is relegated to background noise as other more forefront characters narrate their last days and hours with him. Great to watch and an interesting experience.

7

 

Yellowstone – Season 1 (2018)

I’m a sucker for a western and this makes no exception, despite its shortcomings. Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, it obviously carries a lot of his hallmarks made famous by great films such as Sicario and Hell or High Water, but he also brings a few new tricks to the table. The familial dynamic between Costner and his brood, the Dutton family, is an engrossing thing and none of them are better written than Kelly Reilly’s Beth, a hard-edged, stone cold warmonger who can play at any level except the intimate. Elsewhere Cole Hauser impresses as the family’s enforcer, Kelsey Asbille too shines as the only in-law of the family, and Dave Annable is sorely underused in a fleeting role that is here and gone all too quickly.

It isn’t perfect. Not by far. The narrative is peppered with random events, particularly in Kayce and Rip’s storylines, and these can be quite jarring in their repetition. One is fine, two is a push, three or four…? Well. It all goes a bit more than coincidental and when juxtaposed against the realism of daily political, legal and boardroom interactions, these events could and should have been integrated in a more natural way to lend them some credence. At nine episodes long, it wasn’t as if he didn’t have the time to fit a bit of context in… feels like an episode is missing. That’s 60 minutes he could have played with. Certain subplots also feel un-merited, for example a journalist comes into play, bent on exposing the Dutton patriarch for the criminal he is, however throughout the course of the first season, aside from some strong-arming, Costner’s Dutton barely breaks the speed limit, so this feels uninvited. Again, context would have been a benefit.

These are but niggles, however, as the writing speaks for itself, the characters feel well-defined (supporting female roles could be better) and recognisable, and the pace is sharp. Perhaps too quick for more avid and attentive watchers, but if you’re watching on the fly, you’ll barely notice. The scenery on hand here is epic in scope and gorgeous in the frame and there are plenty of characters here to, not necessarily root for but, keep you interested.

8.5

Bomb City

Solo: a Star Wars Story (2018)

Imagine expecting a new Star Wars story. Imagine expecting dynamic ‘car’ chases. Imagine expecting funny, quirky droid jokes. Imagine expecting storm troopers saying “move along”. Imagine well-choreographed battle scenes, unnecessary cannon references and over-elaborate set-pieces. Imagine expecting an iconic new villain you wish had more screen time and will only ever see again in spin-off cartoons, limited comic book series and fan fiction, none of which you’re interested in. Imagine expecting yet another fake prisoner scene and another tie fighter chase… imagine expecting the tie fighter design to never change! Imagine expecting a sand planet. Imagine expecting a double-cross. Imagine a double-double cross. Imagine expecting lightsabre tech. Imagine expecting Hollywood to bring things round to the beginning in an unnecessary circle of life sort of way…!

Imagine getting everything you expected. Then ask yourself: were your expectations exceeded?

I’d say decidedly not. And that is the problem with Solo.

When the project was announced, I didn’t get the point of it… I still don’t. But I thank it for giving me a couple of impressive-looking set pieces and a final act worth a damn. Everything else in between?… as expected. For a saga that spans an entire galaxy, the Star Wars universe really needs a shake-up.

7

 

Soldado (2018)

Won’t call it anything other than Soldado. It’s original name. Before the powers that be accused us all of being idiots that wouldn’t make the connection. That aside I enjoyed this very much. Roger Deakins notwithstanding, this was on a par with the first movie, albeit they are very different, this sequel feels much more linear and classic in its plot and character arcs. Director Stefano Sollima has done a great job of ensuring the look and feel of the original is maintained throughout and Brolin and del Toro both continue where they left off as their respective agents seamlessly. Similar to its predecessor in that the three act structure seems to lack a decent climactic third, petering out all too quickly, but the tension and action is spattered throughout with enough frequency to please and is deftly and consistently executed.

8

 

Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

Being a massive fan of Christopher McQuarrie (Way of the Gun is a personal favourite), and having heard so many good things about Fallout, I couldn’t wait to see it. MI:2 aside, the Mission Impossible franchise is a consistently solid series of films, but this elevates it to a whole new level, of which it will be difficult to top. As with all of the films, the action is regular and well-choreographed, but there is something more visceral, more dynamic, more impactful than previous go-rounds, that makes it difficult to look away at any point. In honesty the trailer spoils a couple of plot points, not directly but it’s easy enough to deduce if you look closely, but that aside the plot flies by and the cast of characters is one of the best the series has offered up, delivering a real rogues gallery of heroes, villains and in-betweeners. McQuarrie has a deft hand for characterisation and there’s a real sense of classic action that permeates throughout, the kind of which hasn’t been conveyed in a very long time. Here’s hoping he stays on for another instalment, but here’s hoping even more that he goes on to create more quality independent projects.

8.5

 

Manhunter (1986)

The second in a Michael Mann double bill this month. An earlier version of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, before the Lecter trilogy was realised in full, and glistening with ‘80s vibes. Manhunter bears all the pros and cons of the period, making for a good-not-great end product. The soundtrack is a mixed bag of awesomely-retro synths (yay!) alongside near-power-ballad accompaniments (booo!); the characters are a mix of hard-edged man’s men (yay!) topped off with short shorts, mullets and uber tans (booo!); the action is loud, bloody and unafraid (yay!) but climaxes in a poorly-handled finale, devoid of structure or suspense. All in all it is highly watchable but falls foul to a lot of the poorer hallmarks of its era. Feels like it has benefitted from the retro resurgence of recent years.

7

 

Jurassic Park (1993)

Took this in at the Usher Hall with a live orchestral accompaniment and wow was it incredible. The live music really lifts things to a whole new level but that aside the film still stands tall as one of the greatest of all time. Effects that still make many of its sequels pale in comparison, practical effects that are still worthy and add texture to the proceedings. Above all this is a shining example of what the Hollywood blockbuster should be, and Hollywood should take not because they rarely get this right anymore. Characterisation is key, Alan Grants arc is one of the most deftly defined in blockbuster history. Classic adventure still has a place too. Take any subsequent Jurassic Park film and what comes to mind are the dinosaurs and the gadgets, what the CGI guys can do that’s new. Now recall the original and the dinosaurs are the spectacle but there is so much more to appreciate than their eye candy; the tree sequence, the ceiling crawl, the circuit breaker and electric fence. even the small moments, the conversations between Hammond and Sattler, the back and forth between Grant and Malcolm. It’s all gold. This will never be beat. Absolute gold.

10

Loving Vincent

The Searchers (1956)

Thought this was going to be quite a tough watch with edge-less, out of date conventions and behaviours, but it stands up well. Bit shouty with actors over-emphasising their rage with no heft behind it, meanwhile big John is cool as a cucumber but smacks folks about on a whim. That distraction aside… John Wayne’s back catalogue has never been on my radar, and probably never will, but he does okay here. What I will say is that the tone is all over the place. Staid to dark to darker to outright comedy, the balance is very wrong and character arcs suffer a little as a result as you’re never really sure from the script what’s going on behind the eyes. This is most prevalent in the female characters. But the scenery is gorgeous and the for its time this is a remarkable western epic. Would love to see this updated by loving hands.

7

 

Mandy (2018)

The first half of this revenge thriller is a trip. An actual trip. Like the director mine-swept every spiked drink in the club, sank them consecutively, then picked up his video camera and started recording how he same the world. Red filters are applied in abundance and dialogue is zapped through a reverb filter for fun, but not without purpose – this isn’t just some arty indie number; these techniques are applied for a reason. Otherwise I would’ve been out. No patience for that sort of thing. The second half is a trip of a different kind as it follows Nicholas Cage, in a psychotic reprisal of his character Joe from Joe, on a barbaric revenge kick to wipe the Devil’s Rejects from the face of the Earth.

It’s bloody, it’s brutal, it’s angry and it’s saturated in ’80s cool. The rogues gallery is diversely-designed and definitely detestable, and the quote count is one of the strongest I’ve seen in recent years, making this all the more deserving of second and third viewings. However the editing is a bit too jumpy without acceptable transition; Cage just materialises, dreamlike, from revenge scene to the next, with no detective or stalker work in between, and the storyteller in me found that difficult to expect, even if it is the director’s style.

Cool axe though.

7

 

The Predator (2018)

What a shame. As a fan of the Predator franchise, this latest instalment really lowered the standard. Shane Black is a talented writer and a competent director but his style isn’t best suited for this type of film, too clean, too polished for ‘90s throwback style he’s gone for. There’s also the small issue that he throws too much of the Predator mythos out the window by over-complicating it, regurgitating it and not showing it enough respect. Such is the Hollywood way these days. So many bad decisions make for a mess. Characters cracking jokes at the wrong times, turning from scientists to full blown G.I.s in the blink of an eye. Terrible CGI, terrible death sequences.

A solid set up, a solid first act, but there comes a time when Shane Black has to dial down the Shane Black and here he completely over-shoots his landing.

6

 

The Meg (2018)

Cue obligatory handful of inferior sequels and TV show spin-offs. But seriously, cue obligatory handful of inferior sequels and TV show spin-offs. And that’s not to say this was amazing. Long way off actually. But it was fun, never took itself too seriously and, unlike the Predator, it was never expected to. Statham is in fine accent-blending form as Ameri-cockney deep sea rescuer Joan Taylor, and you know the Stath smells another franchise. Where there is disappointment is in the certification the film makers sought as this could so easily have been much better had it been allowed to ramp up the gore and subsequently the absurdity. Opportunity missed so expect this pending franchise to bomb…!

6

Jurassic Park

Boar (2017)

Passing yourself off as a ‘B-movie’ does not make it okay to not bother your arse about producing a semi-decent, coherent or structured script, or be unapologetically shit. Tremors is a B-movie, the B-movie upon which all others should be measured against, and it achieved that status by giving a shit, by giving us characters that we gave a damn about, characters the writers and director invested in, and in doing so made us invest in them also. There isn’t an ounce of charisma in this tosh, and that pains me to say as I’m a massive fan of Aussie cinema, and a reasonable fan of B-movies when they’re done with love, but this… this is some lazy shit. It sets up okay, albeit generically, but ten minutes in abandons its key characters and plot and meanders all over the place, introducing production line drones with dialogue a twelve year-old could improve upon, for the sole purpose of disposing of them in unoriginal ways by an unoriginal monster. Razorback is thirty years older than this mess and looks downright contemporary by comparison. If it was going for a ‘retro’ feel, eg. ausploitation, the film makers really need to look back again as the films it looks to be trying to imitate were actually quite well done for their means. Lazy, lazy stuff. Hard to pick a worst of 2017 between this and Jeepers Creepers 3.

1

 

Dinner for Schmucks (2010)

Essentially this is Michael Scott the Movie, but I’m okay with that. Steve Carrell will never top that character and to ramp his idiocy up to ten and play him against a sober Paul Rudd is a decent approach. For a while there you start to wonder if the titular meal will ever come round, lingering a little too long in Rudd’s apartment, but the comedy is consistently solid throughout. Annoyingly this is one of those comedies where the playing-it-straight character has ample opportunity to end the madness at any given time but frustratingly doesn’t voice himself when it is needed, which makes the whole thing a bit forced and daft, but the characters are fun, the cast are all in 100% and the result is a worthwhile watch.

7

 

Orphan (2009)

Funny one this, as I have avoided for many years based on the poster and how dull it looks, but this was a pretty decent thriller (I expected horror but definitely now) that reminded me of the Boy for some reason, not too sure why. Perhaps the fact that the mystery turns out to be something quite tangible and dark. All in all this is a thriller, which although far-fetched, has plenty of cojones to take itself to dark places and a solid cast behind it to lend it credence.

7

 

Storm of the Century – Miniseries (1999)

Adapted from Stephen King’s work back in the days where his properties were being turned into mediocre TV mini-series like no one’s business. Which makes this a mediocre TV mini-series, right?

Wrong!

No. Actually you’re right. A mysterious and powerful stranger arrives in the small town of Little Tall Island, Maine, in the middle of an isolating and debilitating storm, and enacts a series of hellish encounters with the locals, ultimately leading to some very unfortunate business. It feels as though this 4.5hr adaptation, chopped down into three palatable parts, has been quite faithful to the source. Lots of chatter, lots of time taken to unfold. But that is not to say the time was needed. Feels like a long wait for anything remotely resembling plot progression and if you distilled it down to exactly that, the film would last about 90 minutes, the majority of which being packed into the last part, easily the strongest of the three. I get that time should be taken for character development and dramatic tension but Storm applies way too much, and employs too many bad actors (some of the accents are ridiculous) to convey it well, to the point the tension comes and goes, leaving a deflated space where the drama has vacated. The last 40 minutes are well done but on the whole this misses the mark too often and requires nowhere near the runtime it has to burn.

5.5

Leave No Trace

Bodyguard – Miniseries (2018)

The miniseries that took the UK by storm is at times riveting and moreish, with the central duo of Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden  delivering impressive performances, both likely to sweep the awards circuit, if only the British circuit. But was it worth the hype as the highest rated drama since 2006’s Dr Who Christmas Special? Well… kind of. The idea is great and the series is book-ended by scenes of real tension, but in between it’s just a bit better than okay. Madden’s relationship angles (both with Hawes and his estranged wife) both feel a bit off, largely due to his leaden performance, which I’ll put down to a decent portrayal of PTSD, although this is an assumption; if this was intended I missed that detail. David Budd is a droney, monotonous character without dimension beyond serious and seriouser. It would have been nice to see a lighter side to him. The final climactic reveal takes place in a driveway, which is a bit underwhelming and the closing shots are way too saccharine, completely undoing a lot of its good work in episodes previous. It was heavy-handed and unnecessary. Devoid of outstanding characters, it was okay, but I’m enjoying Killing Eve much more.

7

 

American Honey (2016)

Star, a headstrong teenager from a broken Texan home, runs from it all to join a travelling band of magazine sales agents, all from similar desperate backgrounds. Along the way she experiences romance, responsibility and a sense of belonging, as well as the darker side of all three. I put off watching this for a long time due to the near three-hour duration; it would be an investment of time and I’d need to be in the right frame of mind for it. Having now absorbed it I can say it was an engrossing watch but one that was slightly expected from the small amount of footage I’d already consumed. It’s a good film and the lead, Sasha Lane is magnetic throughout, as is Riley Keough and Shia. All three play off one another very effectively. I would question, however, that it had to be the length it was, as much of the run time is taken up by observatory scenes in the groups minibus as they sing along with various musical numbers. My other key criticism is that I didn’t recognise a full character arc; I learned nothing new about any of the forefront characters at the end of the movie that I didn’t already know an hour in. But it was time well spent for 80% of the time, as the film does a great job of enveloping you in its world, which felt very real.

7

 

Leave No Trace (2018)

A father and daughter living in a public reserve in Portland are uprooted from their idyllic existence and ‘encouraged’ to re-integrate back into society. Sounds a little like Captain Fantastic but it doesn’t possess the lighter hearted tones that film sometimes touches on. This is a melancholic tale of one man’s daughter, an enthusiastic girl, interested in everything, including the lifestyle being forced upon her, and a father who cannot find the will to go back to a society he long ago abandoned (or was abandoned by?). The result is touching and the two central performances are subtle and intense. Not only does this convey an emotional depiction of human frailty but it also shines a light on just how expansive and unknown the States can be, how easy it would be if one wanted to disappear.

7.5

 

My Nephew Emmett (2017)

One of the unsuccessful Best Live Action Short Film nominees at this year’s Oscars, it’s never an easy sight to watch a period and place in history so utterly devoid of humanity. The film makers capture life through the minority’s eyes in fleeting detail but although a condensed view, it offers up enough to hammer home the point and to counterbalance the fear with courage is an outstanding touch. Does feel like a snippet of a bigger piece however.

6

 

The First Purge (2018)

Only with my wife do I watch such drivel. It’s hard to believe this is the fourth in the series; you’d think this was an indie shoestring effort with the pitiful green screen and (unsuccessfully), screenplay and tactical direction on display. Given the profits this franchise makes it’s disgusting that each subsequent sequel hasn’t earned a slightly greater budget, even slightly. Imagine what this idea could offer with a few more bucks behind it for visions of total chaos, total anarchy.

If I was to offer a compliment, they might have unearthed a future action hero in Y’lan Noel, so look out for him, but other than that this has yet to, and most likely never will, surpass the brief intrigue and quality of the original, which itself never fully capitalised on possibly Hollywood’s greatest wasted idea.

2

Victoria

Barton Fink (1991)

A fascinating combo of both the Coens’ humour and dark side, seemingly quite straightforward initially, to the point it could get bland, but takes a swift left turn just over the halfway mark and elevates itself to something more interesting and unexpected for the rest of the duration. Turtutto and Goodman are great characters, demonstrating typical hallmarks of the writers’ style, but with a subtlety you rarely see in their films anymore, unless they’re playing it serious. Great tone, great style, great plot and great characters. I’m not sure they get it right that often anymore but back in the day they were nothing if not consistent. Don’t let the blandness of the period put you off; the Coens make the ‘40s look very much alive. Brutal and alive.

8

 

Top of the Class

Victoria (2015)

Thought Mission Impossible was going to take the prize comfortably this month, however this seemed to step right out of nowhere and pull the rug right out. Man alive, this was a ride! And I’m not even talking about the two and a half hour single take, which is ridiculously impressive from all involved while we’re talking about it; not even talking about the deftly broken down narrative and the way it switches in gear effortlessly; not talking about the crunching tension that mounts as the shit hits the fan again and again. No, just watching the central theme of loneliness and belonging play out through the eyes of Laia Costa throughout this rollercoaster of an evening to the backdrop of Nils Frahm’s utterly wrenching score, is like stepping on an emotional landmine. Honestly I could’ve put my head in my hands and cried for an hour after this, out of sheer pity for the protagonist. Powerful, quality film making. Completely took me by surprise. Outstanding.

8.5

 

On the Horizon: Somersault, Princess Mononoke, Snake Eyes, Australia Day, North by Northwest, Backbeat, Racer and the Jailbird, the Evil Within, the Act of Killing, Eighth Grade, Hold the Dark, Grizzly Man, the Wildling, Jade…

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